Sunday, June 30, 2013

Daydream believer




I have this dream.  Actually, it’s more of a daydream.  About dying.

I’m lying in bed with clean sheets pulled up around my neck.  Sunshine is coming in through the window, splashing my gray head and stubbly chin.

I’m wearing a comfortable pair of boxer shorts.

I can hear the sound of a train in the distance … and a marching band.  I open my eyes and Jesus is standing right there beside me.  He smiles and takes my hand.

“Ready?” he says.

“Ready.”  I say.

“Well then, come on.  Let’s go up to the mountain of the LORD.”

And we go up, full of energy and hope.  Hand-in-hand, we go up … together.

***

Sun streaming through the
window, my carpet is warm
enough for bare feet.

~ Matthew Quick in Sorta Like a Rock Star

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A few closing thoughts on same-sex marriage



Well, first of all, I’d like to thank everyone who shared during this blog series.  It takes courage to speak out about something, especially when that something is controversial. 

And I’m also grateful to four men—men whose time at Harding University overlapped mine and who also happen to be gay—for sharing part of their stories with me.  It’s been good to hear their perspectives, and at the same time heart-breaking to hear about the many unkind remarks and actions they’ve had to endure along the way.  I appreciate their openness and honesty.

And, speaking of honesty, I find it’s my turn to share a few closing thoughts about same-sex marriage.  For me, I guess it comes back to these two questions:

1.    Is homosexuality okay?
2.    Is same-sex marriage okay?

For those of us who’ve grown up in evangelical environments, we tend to get hung up on question 1 before we can even get around to number 2.  We wrestle with these questions (and some others), and then maybe we come to a place of settling out.  I don’t believe I’ve quite settled out on all of this.

With these things in mind, I’ll weigh in … in my own sort-of way.

On the one hand …


Recently our church finished up a series called “Ask Anything.”  A couple of months before the series began, our senior pastor Rod solicited questions from the congregation.  Hundreds of them poured in, which were eventually pared down to a “Top-5.”  And numero uno on the list, as nominated by and voted on by our congregation was—wait for it—“What is the gospel’s response to homosexuality?” 

Rod led off the lesson about homosexuality with this story:



"This is not just a Biblical question.  This is not just a theological question.  Someone who I love deeply.  Someone in my family of origin.  Someone who’s been a part of my life, for my entire life, has been in a monogamous homosexual relationship for over 35 years.  And it’s been a relationship that’s been characterized by faithfulness … by fidelity … by mutuality.  It’s been a relationship where they’ve navigated through the challenges of life … navigated through the losses of life together.  They’ve dealt with severe illnesses together—difficult situations—and they’ve stood faithfully by each other.  So, for me this is not just a Biblical question, a theological question.  It’s a relational question, an emotional question as well."



After saying this, Rod went on to give a classic evangelical response to the question of homosexuality.  It was the kind of grace-filled response you might expect to hear from someone like Philip Yancey or Max Lucado.  I felt comfortable with everything Rod said.  It all made sense to me.

If you’d like to check out his entire sermon, you can find it here:


But on the other hand …


As a kid, I remember sitting in our living room one day, flipping through a catalog.  I stopped on a page where two women were wearing identical lime green outfits.  Identical, except that one woman was wearing long pants and the other woman was wearing shorts.  Short shorts.

As I stared at the photo, I thought about the long-panted woman—a straight-haired brunette with a cute smile—who was clearly better looking than her companion.  But as I peeked over at those hot pants, I knew there was something about the other girl that I preferred.  It made no sense to me at the time, but I knew that she was the one for me.

At about the same time in my life, my parents were pouring a lot of Bible teaching into me.  A l-o-t.  And sometimes they’d throw in a few practical lessons from outside of the Bible.  Lessons like: 



Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.  (Or they might say “moccasins,” if they were going for the Native American version.)



For whatever reason, I took this very much to heart.  I remember it as well as all the scriptures and church songs I learned.

And so I grew up to become a heterosexual man who thinks back to that living-room day, and my mind fills up with more and more questions:

What if I’d picked up that catalog and felt something else, an attraction for men?  What if those thoughts had carried on into my adulthood?  What would it be like to walk a mile in those shoes?  Would I have chosen a celibate life?  Would I have become an advocate for same-sex marriage?  Where would I be today?  What would I now believe?

I ask … and I wonder.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dawn and Melissa speak up for same-sex marriage



Dawn attended Harding in the 1980s and 90s, studying biology and chemistry.  She lives in Atlanta and is a stay-at-home mom.

For many people I talk to, this discussion seems to be about personal religious beliefs, about what’s right and wrong. For me the discussion of same-sex marriage has nothing to do with whether or not the Bible says homosexuality is wrong. It has more to do with our constitution, the importance of religious freedom for everyone, and treating everyone with the respect that I want to be treated with. It’s about realizing that just because someone may believe differently than I do, or live differently than I do, doesn’t mean they’re less. It’s remembering that God commanded us not to judge. It’s about my interpretation of how I think Christ would respond if he were standing in America today. Would he be proud of all the people who claim his name? Would he be angry? Would he fit in our churches today? Or would he think we were pretty much the same as the Pharisees?

From a spiritual standpoint, I look at this issue the same as I see any other sin in the Bible. Far too often we tend to elevate the sins we don’t personally commit as somehow worse than others in the Bible, even though often murder is listed right alongside gossip, envy, disobeying parents and arrogance (to name just a few).

Additionally, I don’t see anywhere that Jesus commanded his followers to try to get Rome to change their laws to match the teachings of God. Instead, when his disciples complained about taxes or Roman laws, we see Jesus saying that his kingdom is not on this earth. To me that means I don’t need to worry about whether or not America is a “Christian” nation. I don’t need to try to force anyone to live according to God’s laws. That’s not my job. My job is to show the love of Christ in all of my actions every day. When we look at the story of the rich young ruler, he turned away sad because he wasn’t going to sell his belongings to follow Jesus. We don’t see Jesus chasing after him, trying to force him to comply. Jesus allowed, and God allows, the freedom of choice. That means the freedom to choose not to follow him. We do ourselves and our country a disservice when we think we have to mandate that people follow the laws of God. It seems to me that God values a people who choose to follow him, which is why he didn’t create a world where we are forced to follow him. Trying to force people to follow God’s laws by creating man-made laws with man-made consequences doesn’t save anyone’s soul. The saddest thing I see in America today is judgmental attitudes run amok. It’s rampant among people of all denominations and those who claim no faith. We divide ourselves into groups of "who is good" and "who is bad" based on our personal interpretation of scripture. I can’t help but think that it makes Jesus sad. When we look at his example, we should ask ourselves, "Who are the tax collectors and the 'sinners' of our day?" We really should stop and think about it because that’s who Jesus spent time with. Are we spending time with those people? And I don’t mean hitting them over the head with the Bible. I mean, in love, sharing a meal, meeting emotional and spiritual needs.

When we move past the spiritual part of the discussion, I think it’s important to remember that America, although Christianity may be the dominant religion, is not a Christian nation. America is a nation that was specifically designed to allow us to choose to believe, follow and actively participate in whatever type of religion we choose. That includes atheism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. When we pass laws that are based primarily on Christian beliefs, we violate the principles that our country was founded on. We set a precedent for using a religion as the main reason for a law. In doing so, we open the door to be forced to follow someone else’s beliefs that we may not agree with. I can’t come up with any argument against same-sex marriage that’s not a religious objection. If for no other reason than that, I have to support same-sex marriage.

Additionally, I don’t see marriage in America today as a religious institution. The Bible doesn’t tell us we need a piece of paper issued by the government for him to recognize our marriage. Religious marriage is a covenant between two people and God. It doesn’t require a license or government recognition. I think a lot of people have confused the issue by thinking that all marriage is a religious act. What people are referring to as marriage today is a legal document issued by the state recognizing a commitment between a man and a woman. That piece of paper grants the holders certain benefits in taxes, inheritance, legally defines next of kin for medical purposes, and also grants a type of respectability in our society. The debate is really about whether or not the state can or should grant those rights to only certain couples based on religious principles only.

I could stop there, but I think it’s important to also note that I respect and fully support the right of everyone to love and marry the person they choose. I don’t see how anyone else’s marriage has any impact on the commitment that my husband and I made to each other before God. My marriage is not impacted by Brittany Spears being married for an insanely short period of time. My marriage is not impacted by a couple divorcing after 30 years. So why would my marriage be impacted by two people of the same-sex entering into a long term committed relationship? In short, it’s not.

The most important reason I support same-sex marriage is because I support the right of every person in this country to believe, follow and actively participate in whatever belief system they choose. I support their right to agree or to disagree with me. I support their right to choose to follow Jesus differently than I do, or to choose not to follow him at all. I choose to act as I believe Jesus would, with love towards all. My friendship, love, compassion and assistance are not predicated on someone living according to my belief system. It’s not my place to judge the world.

***

Melissa studied at Harding in the 1990s.  She resides in East Texas.

Let me first say that I do not believe same-sex marriage is morally right, but legally I have no right to judge.  I feel legally all people should be afforded the same rights as a husband and wife.
 
I got to this point by considering the legal rights of others. If same sex partners are going to live together and share expenses and so forth, then they should be allowed by law to marry.

I also have a cousin who is gay.  She and her partner have had a private ceremony commemorating their partnership.